“The shadow personifies everything that the subject refuses to acknowledge about himself and yet is always thrusting itself upon him directly or indirectly.”
Heavy metal is caricatured and even promoted as being anti-religious because of the aggressively iconoclastic posturing of many of its devotees. But the explicit opposition to Christianity that some of the musicians and listeners claim is more complex than a simple moral depravity or hostility to goodness. Moral depravity and cruelty are too often cloaked in shows of righteousness and correctness in our world, and heavy metal is often motivated by conscientious objection to such hypocrisy. Black Sabbath’s classic “War Pigs” is a perfect example of this.
The pioneering heavy metal band Black Sabbath pictured in 1970.
That’s one part of it, but heavy metal is, at its core, a ritual claiming of the shadow self. In Owning Your Own Shadow, Robert A. Johnson considers Carl Jung‘s findings about the shadow: the zone of the psyche which serves as a refuge for the elements of our personality that society does not accept. Morbid fascinations with violence, death and decay were unacceptable in the late 20th century’s American-led culture of rapturous material progress. The optimism of the Space Age demanded a balance, and as Johnson observes, “The unconscious cannot tell the difference between a ‘real’ act and a symbolic one” (page 21). Heavy metal music is only one of many media and art forms that Anglo-American culture produced to offer such rituals: think also of the vogue for monster movies in the 1950s.
For people living under the heel of expansionist materialist cultures, heavy metal and other shadowy music genres also continue to be a form of moral protest against the violence perpetrated by the beneficiaries of the dominant social and economic order.
Recently I discovered the work of the late Chuck Schuldiner, whose band Death came to define the entire subgenre of Death metal before his own untimely death from a brain tumor in 2001. Despite the shocking affect of the band name, Chuck asserted that it was “just a name for me. I’m a very positive person: towards life, towards friendship, towards love, towards, you know, all certain things that we’re made up as, as being human . . . I’m not a violent person or anything” (MTV interview, November 1991).
Chuck Schuldiner (1967-2001), widely regarded as the founder of Death Metal.
By the time Death released their iconic album Symbolic in 1995, Schuldiner had moved away from the B-movie imagery of his earlier lyrics. In the interview quoted above, he also said this: “Reality is far more brutal than a demon tearing somebody’s heart out. That just doesn’t happen in life, I see no demons around me . . . if there’s evil, it’s people. Evil is real on earth . . . and there’s things to write about in life that I think people can relate to.”
Here are some of the words to “Sacred Serenity” on that record:
Wherever we go, whatever we do
Your shadow is not far behind our steps and our breath
Protecting and watching all…
Observing spirits on the wall
What are they telling you?
That is essentially the same question that Dr. Jung constantly asked.
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Staff Writer – Jung Society of Utah
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